In all the years we’ve been exploring the Canadian Rockies, we’ve never bothered with this hike. It seemed too close to Banff, likely to be too busy for our liking, too short, too boring – altogether too mundane.
But at this time of year, many of our favourite hiking trails have too much snow and ice for hiking (and not enough snow for snowshoeing). Others have significant avalanche risk – or at least more than we’re prepared to take. We were already in Banff townsite thanks to a couple of errant dust specks that necessitated a little sensor cleaning help from Banff Photography. Add to all of that the fact that I haven’t done any hiking since injuring my left knee last October and Tunnel Mountain seemed like a perfect option for a cloudy afternoon in the middle of spring break.
Despite the fact that one of the reasons we’ve avoided this hike is that it’s close to Banff townsite, that actually makes it a good option for those without a private vehicle or for those looking for a shorter outing to round out a day in the mountains. To reach the trail, head east on Wolf Street from the Information Centre on Banff Avenue. Turn right onto Grizzly and then veer immediately left onto St. Julien Road. The trailhead is at the west end of first parking lot on the left had side of St. Julien Road. There is space for a couple of dozen vehicles and it was full when we arrived on a Thursday afternoon in late March.
Tunnel Mountain trail is nice and wide. Unless you have to go single file to allow on-coming hikers to pass, it’s well-suited to walking and talking. The route is well-marked and well-maintained, with lots of signs asking people to stay on the established path.
About 10 or 15 minutes from the trailhead, we looked both ways before crossing Tunnel Mountain Drive. After a short stretch of stairs, the trail climbed a series of long switchbacks, up and along the side of Tunnel Mountain. Nearing the summit, we spotted guard railings to keep visitors away from a precipitous drop overlooking the Banff Springs golf course.
We sat in the red chairs near the summit, found a geocache and took quite a few photographs before heading back down.
Total hiking distance = 4.8 km (return)
Elevation gain = 250 meters (net)
Although rated as a moderate hike on the Gem Trek “Banff Up-Close” map, we would rate this as an easy hike, both in terms of distance and elevation gain. It took us less than 90 minutes return, including time for taking photographs and to find a geocache. It was great to see so many people on the trail – families, dog walkers and a couple of small groups, too.